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Israel may reconsider UNESCO exit, ambassador says

Israel and the US both announced on 12 October that they would leave UNESCO. [Getty]

Date of publication: 27 June, 2018

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Israel and the United States both announced on 12 October that they would leave the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization over resolutions critical of Israel.

Israel's ambassador to UNESCO said on Tuesday he was urging his government to reconsider its decision to quit the UN cultural body, saying it had halted its "anti-Israeli resolutions" over the past year.

Israel and the United States both announced on 12 October that they would leave the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization over resolutions critical of Israel.

But ambassador Carmel Shama-Hacohen said there had been a change of tone under the Paris-based agency's new chief Audrey Azoulay, a former French culture minister who was elected last year. 

"What I'm going to recommend to my ministry and my government is at least to reconsider our decision," Shama-Hacohen told journalists by telephone.

"It could be postponing the date of leaving for one year or something like that," he suggested, which would delay the scheduled departure until at least December 2019.

He spoke as Israeli, Palestinian and Jordanian officials adopted amended versions of last year's decisions by UNESCO's world heritage committee to list the Old City of Jerusalem and its walls, as well as Hebron in the occupied West Bank, as endangered sites.

The new resolutions - adopted through a rare consensus - keep the two sites on the list, but remove phrasing which Israel had considered aggressive.

One had referred to Israel as "the occupying power" in the divided city of Jerusalem. Another had declared the Old City of Hebron in the occupied West Bank a Palestinian World Heritage site.

Shama-Hacohen said that under Azoulay's leadership there had been a "new spirit and new energy", noting: "We haven't had any anti-Israeli resolutions at UNESCO for one year."

Staying put would be "a miracle", he added, "but there is an option for it."

Azoulay welcomed Tuesday's consensus between the usually feuding parties, calling it "a win-win situation".

She said she hoped it would "allow a period with less tension that should open the way for more UNESCO work on the ground".

Tensions have bubbled since UNESCO admitted Palestine as a member state in 2011 - a move opposed by the US and Israel, who argue that any recognition of Palestinian statehood must await a negotiated Middle East peace deal.

The US cut funding to UNESCO over the decision, before announcing its departure last year in a move that underlined a drift away from multilateral institutions under President Donald Trump.

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